By Arnie Gundersen
Starting in 1971, I became a card-carrying member of the "nuclear priesthood." I began as a licensed nuclear reactor operator and progressed through the industry to become a senior vice president. I believed, with religious fervor, that by helping to build and operate atomic power reactors, I would be creating power that was "too cheap to meter." The historic 1973 gasoline shortages and long lines of cars queued at the pumps made it clear to me and hundreds of other nuclear engineers that nuclear power was the only solution to the "energy shortage." In the 1970s and '80s, solving this apparent energy shortage was our only mantra. At that time, there was no scientific data connecting fossil fuels to climate change.
In 1953, President Eisenhower initiated his "Atoms for Peace" program as a means to transform the atom from a scourge into a benefit for mankind and created grand illusions of at least 1,000 US atomic plants by the year 2005. However, well before the 1979 disaster at Three Mile Island, nuclear construction costs were skyrocketing and construction schedules were constantly slipping. The overzealous goal of 1,000 US atomic power reactors dwindled to about 110 finally completed reactors, while more than 120 others that had been on the drawing boards were canceled before producing a single watt of power.
By 1985, Eisenhower's dream of reclaiming the power of the atom for peaceful purposes had unraveled and had become a nightmare. Electric rates continued to skyrocket and ratepayers were left picking up the pieces from Atoms for Peace.
Of the more than 230 attempts to construct atomic power reactors in the United States during the 20th century, only 99 reactors are still operating. Globally, a total of 438 atomic power reactors were still operating in 2015, according to the World Nuclear Association.
During the 20th century, the lights stayed on and the prediction of a dire energy shortage never materialized. Nuclear power's claims that it would be an economic nirvana "too cheap to meter" collapsed as well. Entering the 21st century, renewables began to appear more feasible, so the atomic power industry latched on to NASA's James Hansen's 1988 prognosis of the global buildup in CO2 resulting in global climate change as a new justification for existence. Armed with this new marketing ploy, nuclear power lobbyists flooded Capitol Hill looking for financing to fund the 21st century "nuclear renaissance."
Does the nuclear industry's latest claim that it is the world's salvation from increasing levels of CO2 hold up under scrutiny? No. The evidence clearly shows that building new nuclear power plants will make global warming worse...